Manistee, Mich. (WJMN) – Following the release of findings from the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs of an investigation into the U.S. Government’s forced assimilation of indigenous people, the Native Justice Coalition in Michigan issued a release about its work and how it connects to national-level initiatives.

Below is a release from the Native Justice Coalition about their efforts and leading up to the 3rd Annual Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference, which is September 30 to October 2.

For more than 150 years, thousands of Native American children were forcefully taken from their parents, removed from their communities, and placed in boarding schools throughout the country due to forced assimilation by the US government. Five Indian boarding schools operated in Michigan, receiving federal subsidies between 1829 and 1983.

On May 11, 2022, the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, a Tribal citizen of Bay Mills Indian Community, released Volume 1 of the investigative report into the federal Indian boarding school policy. The report is a significant step in acknowledging the role the federal government played in the forced removal and relocation of Indigenous children and lays the foundation for the continued work of the Department of Interior to address intergenerational trauma created by the federal policy.

“The consequences of federal Indian boarding-school policies…inflicted upon generations of children as young as four years old are heartbreaking and undeniable,” said Ms. Haaland.

The purpose of the federal Indian boarding school policy was to strip Native children of their culture, language, ceremonies, traditional stories, healing practices, traditional clothing, and traditional community lifeways. The government mixed children from different tribes to disrupt connections and forced the use of English. There was rampant physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as malnourishment, disease, and death.

Since 2016, Native Justice Coalition, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice and the healing of historical trauma for Native people, has worked with survivors, their families, and Native communities across the Great Lakes region to share their stories, support their healing, and facilitate cultural practice that strengthens Native identity. Since 2018, the Native Justice Coalition has traveled throughout Michigan hosting Healing Stories, a program that brings Indigenous people together to share their stories of survival and resilience.

“The investigative report shows a first step from the federal government to support the work many Native Nations, communities, non-profits, and community organizations based organizations have already been doing on boarding school healing and justice. This action can now support the work ahead, which is a long road. Our organization has an unwavering commitment to this work across the Michigan Native community. This work is for us so we can repair what has been taken, lost, and stolen from us.” – Cecelia LaPointe, Native Justice Coalition

Linda Cobe (right), a Tribal citizen of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and boarding school survivor, has worked tirelessly to share her story and support others in healing. At age 5, Linda was removed from Watersmeet and placed in the Holy Childhood boarding school in Harbor Springs.

“My sister and I were abandoned by our biological parents and sent to a boarding school that was not a pleasant experience. We were then adopted out to a non-Indian family where we suffered many more years of abuse. The trauma left me with feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, depression, and later thoughts of suicide and then failed marriages,” said Cobe.

Secretary Haaland announced the launch of “The Road to Healing,” a year-long tour across the country to provide American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian survivors the opportunity to share their stories. Native Justice Coalition looks forward to coordinating efforts across Michigan to support Secretary Haaland’s Road to Healing tour.

Cobe offers, “I think acknowledging the trauma and letting them know they are not alone in their grief will help the healing start.”

In the upcoming months, the Native Justice Coalition will be hosting our 3rd Annual Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference focused on racial and social justice for Native people. In addition, a series of Healing Stories events are being planned to continue the work of healing from intergenerational trauma and strengthening Indigenous cultural identity. Specifically, we are focusing on supporting and uplifting boarding school survivors and elders stories. Our Healing Stories program focuses on strengthening the individual, family, and community. Events were postponed during the pandemic but we are excited to host these events this year throughout the state.